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Using Music to Learn Geomorphology: An Undergraduate Experience

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Abstract

As an alternative to traditional upper-level physical geography pedagogy (labs, quizzes, tests, papers, and occasional field exercises), this article outlines and analyzes a 10-week large-group research endeavor conceived and executed by undergraduates where they explored aspects of project construction, methods, analyses, and group dynamics. These experiences are then critiqued from both instructor-and student-based perspectives. We suggest that pedagogies linking physical geography and traditional humanities disci-plines should not be overlooked, especially in physical geography-based courses, as they can expose students to high-level thinking skills such as: nor limiting research projects to quantitative observations in a natural setting; implementing a student-fliendly medium; putting into practice the (some-times dlyly-delivered) geomorphologic content. Additionally, we nore that foster-ing humanities-science inquiry can enhance
Using Music to Learn
Geomorphology:
An Undergraduate
Experience
Casey D, Allen
Department of Geography and
Enu iro nmenta / S ci ences
Uniuersity of Colorado Denuer
Denuer, CO 80217
E-mai/: casey. allenqucdenuer. edu
Tyler J. Thompson
Department of Geography and Planning
Arizona State Uniuersity
Tempe, AZ 85287
E-mai l: tj th omp 9 qasu. edu
Matthew T. Hansen
Department oJ' Geograp hy and
Enuiro nmental S c ienc es
(Jniuersity of Colorado Denuer
Denuer, CO 80217
E-mai l: Hmatkay @ms n. c om
Thc Geographical Bulletin 54: 37 -48
O2013 b,v (iamma theta Upsilon
Gated Carnnunitias : Ins titutiona/i zing Socit/ S*dtiJicntion
ABSTRACT
As an alternative to traditional upper-level
physical geography pedagogy (labs, quizzes,
t€sts, papersJ and occasional field exercises),
this articie outlines and analyzes a 10-week
large-group research endeavor conceived and
executed by undergraduates where they ex-
plored aspects of project construction, meth-
ods, analyses, and group dynamics. These
experiences are then critiqued from both
instructor- and student-based perspectives.
We suggest that pedagogies linking physical
geography and traditional humanities disci-
plines should not be overlooked, especially
in physical geography-based courses, as they
can expose students to high-level thinking
skills such as: nor limiting research projects
to quantitative observations in a natural
setting; implementing a student-fliendly
medium; putting into practice the (some-
times dlyly-delivered) geomorphologic
content. Additionally, we nore that foster-
ing humanities-science inquiry can enhance
students' overall learning, while encompass-
ing an upper-division class' primary focus
of providing meaningful (to them) research
experiences and generate crucial connections
when applying knowledge ro higher-level
professional and academic research.
Key Vords: geomorphology, music, open-
ended learning environments, humanistic
physical geography
PRELUDE
Upper-level undergraduate physical geog-
raphy classes employ many facets ro engage
students (labs, quizzes, tests, papers, and occa-
sional field exercises), often connecting them
with the scientific method thlough a research
project (perhaps even as part ofthe instructor's
research agenda or expertise area specifically).
This traditional pedagogy may seem tried and
true at first glance, but upon closer inspection,
it lacks higher-order rhinking skills. Further,
the traditional pedagogy neglects what Her-
rington, Oliver, and Reeves (2009) note as
an important componenr of student devel-
Casel D. Allen, T1ler J. 7lLortpson and Mattheut 7'. Harcen
opment, especially in undergraduate science:
authentic, original research. As an unconven-
tional pedagogy then, and with the important
task ofbridging the too-apparent physical ge-
ography-human geography gap (Allen 20l2;
Allen and Lukinbeal 201 1; O'Brien 201 1;
Inkpen 2005; Cober 2000; Massey 1999a,
1999b), this article outlines and analyzes a
1O-week long large-group research endeavor
conceived and executed by undergraduate stu-
dents enwining geomorphology and music.
As part of an upper-division geomorphology
course, students were tasked with analyzing a
landscape of their choosing as a geomorpholo-
gist might understand it. Since the term land-
scape is broadly defined for this assignment,
students can explore physical, urban, or even
fictional landscapes. The point ofthis exercise
rests in expanding students' relationship to the
physical landscape, helping them understand
concepts' applicability outside the classroom
in the "real world". And this particular group
of students stretched the limits, using music
as a landscape. To demonstrate that students
may make interesting "outside of the box"
observations, and that these should perhaps
not be overlooked as pedagogy, we critique our
approach from both instructor- and student-
based perspectives.
-l-
INTRODUCTION
Geomorphological landscape assessments in
r-rpper-division courses take many forms: from
the traditional stereo aerial photo analysis and
laboratory exercises to Google Earth and field-
based experiences. As part of the requirements
for an upper-division geomorphology course,
students, as a team, were required to assess a
landscape and present it to the class. Team
members and landscape type were self-selected,
with the professor encouraging creativity and
unconventional landscapes. One (rather large)
team devised an interesting and novel project:
rying geomorphology to music. To illustrate
the overall learning experience, aFrer briefly
describing the course and rationaie behind this
38
pedagogy, this paper's first section outlines the
professort observations, intelpretations, and
involvement in the team's research. In the sec-
ond section, students explain their rationale
behind their selection of topic, methods, and
hypothesis, and analyze their experience of
the project as a team-based research exercise
and learning experience. They then discuss
improvements that could be made to their
research project, possibilities for future related
research, and the effect and applicability this
project has had on their subsequent courses
and lives. Through this exploration of how
undergraduares rhink about and conduct
meaningful research, we hope that instructors
will develop a clearer picture of the effective-
ness ofunconventional pedagogies to instill an
enthusiasm for research in students.
\7hen students conduct research, they
invariably encounter the same roadblocks
as professional researchers. They Iearn about
team dynamics, biases, data usage and analy-
ses, while juggling several tasks within the
context of one research agenda alongside
their other coursework requirements and
personal endeavors. Additionally, when it
comes to conducting undergraduate research,
students need to be tasked with something to
which they can relate, comprehend, and find
meaningful and exciting. Ideally, undergrad-
uate students should experience and under-
stand the research process. This goes beyond
merely developing a hypothesis, testing said
hypothesis, and reporting on the results. Real
research, unlike typical lab exercises, does not
have a predetermined course or result, and
the sooner in their academic careers that
they experience this, the betterl Students
need (and want) to understand what "real
world" researchers do, what frustrations and
joys they experience, how they handle crises,
and ultimately, what it takes to make research
applicable and useful for others.
VERSE ONE: PROFESSOR
PERSPECTIVE
The course described in this paper, Princi-
ples of Geomorphology, represents a curricular
staple offered once each year with an average
enrollment of 25 students, ofwhich an averag€
of 80% are geography majors. It is an upper-
division course, meant fix junior and scnior
undergraduates who have taken an introduc-
tory physical geography or geology course, as
well as a basic class in weather and climate.
The course begins with a detailed review of
landfbrm processes (e.g., earth materials, relief
building, weathering, and soils) before using
these form-plocess connections to focus on
specific landscape types (e.g., volcanic pro-
cesses and landforms, glacial processes and
landFormst. No terts or quizzcs are gliverr..rs
assessment is discussior-r and project-based,
rcvolving around itudent interesLs, giring
them a chance to put into practice the course
concepts. 'These irrclude leading discussions of
landform analyses based on a non-traditional
textbook, John McPhee's Annals of tlte Former
World (2000), several hands-on, near-campus
field trips and a final formal presentation. The
presentation represents the crux ofthe course.
In teams of at least three , students must se-
lect tl-reir final presentation topic from three
broad choices: a current geornorphic topic
(e.g., Martian geomorphology), a current en-
vironmental problen.r that n-right be ir.rfluenced
and addressed by geomorphic concepts (e.g.,
desert wildfires), or ar-r in-depth presentatiorl
of a "Wild, Weird, and \facky Larrdscape"
(e.g., yardangs of Iran). Half of the team's pre-
sentation grade comes from peer evaluations,
and the other half from the professor, with
each team member receiving the same grade
regardless of contribution. The evaluations
used a pre-determined rubric created by the
professor, and was used for all presentations
in the course. The presentation could take on
a variety of formats, from a basic slideshow
presentation or cfeation of a website to a film
docrrmerrrary or skit. In erery irrsrance. slu-
dents are encouraged to be creative in their
choices, giving them a chance to relate their
interests to course content. As expected, most
groups opted for the straightforward slideshow
olt rome favorite landlorm, rr' landscape.
1he goals here rest in helping undergradu-
ate students understirnd and appreciate group
llsing Music ta Learn Geornorpltolog1: An Undergraludta Expetiencc
dynar-nics that all researchers experience,
including peer evaluation, and exposing
them to an intense resealch-focused curricu-
lum not often used in U.S. undergraduate
education systems. Further, after gaining the
nec€ssary background, the students involved
in the project described herein spent most
of the semester formulating hypotheses,
compiling data, and analyzing their results
into a meaningful presentation. The subject
of this article then, represents an example
of creatively merging physical geography
(in this case, geomorphology) with human
geography, resulting in a rich learning and
research experience for undergraduate stu-
dents on an urban campus (Herrington,
Oliver, and Reeves 2009).
This project began with a lone student ap-
proaching the professor with the idea of re-
searching correlations between g€omorphol-
ogy and music-using music as the landscape
to assess. Vhen asked what prompted the
idea, the student responded, "l was driving
to school and heard a Hendrix song where
he was singing about land falling into the
ocean. And I thought: that's mass wasting!"
Alrhough not a traditional way to think of (or
teach) geomorphology, I became intrigued,
and suggesred he see if any other students
r,rould be intelesteJ (since a team projecr is
required). 1b my surprise, two-thirds of rhe
class (17 total students in the end) elected to
participat€ in the project.
A literature search on the topic resulted
in a couple of short one-page articles that
mention a geology-music connection, but
never elaborate on it, or how the connec-
tion could be used in pedagogical practice
(Dietrich 1989; Stinchcomb 1986). Turn-
ir.rg to geography, a myriad discussions of
music-geography connections can be found
in the literature, though they te nd to be more
cultural in focus, only mentioning physical
features in passing (Sternberg 1998; Nash
and Carney 1996; Kong 1995; Byklum I 994;
Nelsor.r 1993; Paterson 1991; Lehr 1984).
Even Mortons (1996) 6ook Music of the
Earth is weak in its music-geomorphologic
connections, explaining the Earth's cycles as
JV
2)
3)
5)
Di
+)
7)
Casel D. Allen, '11/er J. 'lhompson rnd Matthew T Hnnsen
one entire musical event rather than relating
music itself to landform and process. From
"solo performances" like volcar-ric eruptions
and wave actions to "the grand symphony"
of plare tectonics and seasorrs. no conncction
to speci.Jic songs or specifc landforms exist in
Morton's book (284). One str-rdy however,
ruggeste.J a model for incorporaring music
into physical geography, following seven
srePs:
1) IdentiS'ing the lyrics with physical geog-
raphy content
Provide the lyrics
Are the lyrics fthe focusl or' [a facet in] the
song?
Do the lyrics describe or mention a general
or specific feature or process?
Accuracy of rhe lyric's description
Are the lyrics an analogy (and if so, how
i. ir i.t.r-.ot.l))
Miscellaneous (additional ir-rsight, artist
background, history, etc.) (Jurmu 2005,
181-185)
Modifying this model of identifying
relevant lyrics (Jurmu 2005, 181), I began
working with the team to hone their proj-
ect. As the team began forming their initial
hypotheses (discussed in detail below), it
became apparent that they would likely need
to revise these to adjust for the course's short
duration. However, the spirit of the assign-
msnl-2nd more importantly, undergradu-
ate students learning about the intensity and
overall structure of completing an in-depth
physical geography-based team resealch proj-
ect from conception to end-would remain
intact and provide an invaluable experience
in the difficulties often encountered in pro-
fessionai settings. i would consciously play
as small a role as possible-offering insights
about data gathering, how to handle slackers,
ideas for compiling and analyzing data, and
so forth. For the most part, students would
guide the research effort. This type of self-
generated research agenda leads students to
create an open-enJed le,rrning environment
that requires the highest levels of cognitive
40
operatioll such as exploring and manipulat-
ing concepts, generating, testing, and revis-
ing meaningfr-rl (and multiple) hypotheses,
reflecting on prior knowledge, and applying
that knowledge to a new endeavor (Land
2000). Among other lesearch plights, the
tearn explored first-hand the process ofcraft-
ing a research question of manageable scope
and size, and the process of creating work-
able research methods rather than following
a pre-determined path. They discovered
research group dynamics: motivating fellow
researchers, getting timely responses from
each other, and having to take up the slack
where colleagues did not have as stlong an
interest or backgror.rnd in the subject. Indeed,
on top ofthese incidents, they also learned to
understand and deal with researcher biases,
experience d working with large datasets, and
realized the rigors of interpreting data. In
the end, while their results were skewed and
somewhat biased, they recognized these traits
themselves, without my guidance, and even
went so far as to expound in their presenta-
tion on how they wor-rld refine the methods
and procedures in hopes ofone day carrying
forward and expanding the research. They
also learned how science reaily works in prac-
tice, outside of a classroom. The upcoming
sections demonstrate these invaluable experi-
ences from the students' perspecl ives.
VERSE TWO: STUDENT
PERSPECTIVE
Our study of the representation of geo-
morphology in music began as many research
projects do, with an observation of the song
"If 6 was 9" (Hendrix 1967), which refers to
mountains crr-ulbing into the sea-a basic
mountain-building and erosion process. This
prompted a few of us to wonder how often
geomorphology was referenced directly or
indirectly in music, and when it was, how
accllrate the form-to-pt'ocess linkages were.
We inquired of our professor to determine if
the idea merited research, and he suggested
we open the project up to the entire class.
In the end, a significant number of students
(17) joined the project, and we collectively
designed a method to collect, collate, quan-
tify, and analyze geomorphic forms and
processes in music. Each team rnember was
required to participate in at least two ways:
1) by collecting at least 20 songs containing;
one or more reference to geomorphology
process or form; and 2) by participating in
the compilation, processing and analysis of
data or by presenting the findings.
This project proved to be a valuable learn-
ing experience for all involved, as no one on
the team had ever been given the opportunity
to engage in a solely student-dliven research
agenda in any of their other classes. We
identified geomorphic forms and processes
discussed in class through pop culture, par-
ticipated in a research project from genesis
to conclusion, and overcame what we lealned
were typical research obstacles. In the end,
the project took over rr;vo months to complete
and required all participants' collaboration.
Before providing our overall impressions of
the experience, we outline below rhe three
main tasks we set for ourselves to accolrr-
plish, notir.rg the accompanying diliculties
and shortcomings. These ir-rclude: general
organizational structure, methods (includ-
ing hypotheses)/data analyses, and their rela-
tion to the final required presentation. The
group came to discover that a true learning
experience comes from overcoming obstacles
and recognizing mistakes that arise and we
faced no shortage of these dr-rring our proj-
ect! Additionally, as we moved through the
research process, we discovered through our
meetings and email exchanges, that everyone
involved was learning similar lessons. Sev-
eral students had shared "ah-hah!" moments
while listening to a song when they made
a geomorphic connection. Others enjoyed
tackling a project of theil own design. Ev-
efyone mentioned the frustrations associated
with coordination of efforts, finding the tin.re
to actually do their assigned tasks, and being
able to interpret what they found. Several
weeks into the experience, it was noted in
an emaii discussion that lister.rer bias had
not been taken into accollnt, and this could
l 'i,r.C AIt.,ir ro lrnttr L,iroqutph,'/,,g;: Atr Ut'i,rg,ndun', Lrpcrirn,,
be a potentially devastating problem for the
project. Yet in each instance, the group held
to our agenda and persevered.
INTERLUDE: PROJECT OVERVI EW
Key in underraking this projecr was organi-
zation. Since the group was so large, we (the
students) developed a management structure .
A project manager oversaw the progress of
the project and directed the activity of the
group. This project manager selected certain
motivated students to take control of specific
aspects ofthe project, such as data collectior.r
and analysis. Another individual led the pre-
sentation aspect of the project and brought
in the ideas of other subgroups and synthe-
sized rhern into one coherent presentation.
Gloup members stayed in contact through
frequent emails. A11 of the group's data was
deposited and edited through a free online
file sharing program called Digital Dropbox
which greatly aided in organization by allow-
ing all of our documents to be collected in a
mutually accessible location. Despite these
tools to coordinate activity with the group,
it remained dillcult to stick to a timeline
throughout the project. For example, two-
thirds of the group did not compl€te their
data sheets on time, jeopardizing the project
and adding a great deal ofstress. These col-
leagues were reprimanded by the other one-
third oF researchers, and data sheets began
appealing in the Digital Dropbox. tVhile
reprimanding peers was ur-rcomfortable for
a few ("I just can't be that mean and tell them
they suck because they're two days late," said
one student), it demonstrated to us what can
occur in a professional setting, and gave us
an opportunity to learn our own strengths
and weaknesses.
Our analysis of geomolphology in music
started with developing a research focus
and devising a method. Our ultimate goal
was to determine the "best geomorphologic
song" according to specific criteria (discussed
below), but as we got into the project, our
interests expanded. We developed five more-
detailed hypotheses based on what the group
41
Casel D. Allen, Tller J. Thompson and Mattheu T Hansen
had informally observed in their daily iives
before the project's inception, and a group of
two or more students investigated each one:
. The "best geomorphologic song" would
be between 30 and 40 years old and in
the rock genre. This was based on the
perception ofa greater physical environ-
mental awareness Present in songwriters
of the era compared to today.
' Corresponding to the rise of the environ-
mental movement, there would be more
geomorphology songs from the 1960s
and 1970s;
' Owing to the music genre's perceived
intense beats and often aggressive tim-
bre, there would be mote references to
natural disasters and cataclysmic events
in rock and hear,y metal songs;
. Because ofthe usually rural settings, there
would be a higher frequency of refer-
ences pertaining to toPography and geo-
graphic locations in the country genre;
and
. Based on casual observances by the re-
searchers, and perhaps due to the gran-
deur of the process, there would be more
references to orogenesis as opposed to
fluvial or Aeolian Fearures across music
genres.
Once hypotheses were agreed upon, we de-
signed data collection sheets in a spreadsheet.
These data sheets included criteria necessary
in effectively evaluating these hypotheses.
Our criteria included song title, artist, date,
genre, geomorphologic form/process men-
tioned, the context of the reference, the
directness of the reference (whether it was
mentioned briefly without much exploration,
or if the form/process was expiored in depth),
and the quality of the reference (its validity
and accuracy) (Table 1). \fith the knowledge
that the best geomorphologic songs would be
popular ones that spread the message further,
*e ,.ored song longevity, genre, number of
covers, Top 40 status, and whether the album
or song went gold or platinum (Table 2). The
project's complete dataset is available online
at http://clasfaculty.ucdenver.edu/callen/
geomorph/music/
4Z
Once the entirety of the data set was
collected over the course of four weeks, we
checked for "holes" and other problems with
our data by either back-tracking and filling-in
these holes, or rejecting the data outright ifit
did not fit our criteria. \7e also collected our
data from iTi,rnes and Billboard so genre data
would not vary between sources. Eventually,
we put songs in rank order based on a total
score that included all parameters in tables
one and two into a master list we termed
the Geomorhologic Song Data Collection Sheet
(the entire spreadsheet is available at http://
clasfacuity. ucdenver. edu/callen/ geomo rph/
music/geomorphmusic-dataset.xls)' This
final score represented a quantification of
the prevalence of geomorphology in each
song collected.
Inexoerience as tesearchers resulted in
problems with our methods. The broadness
of our subject matter and student subjectiv-
ity surely left much room for inconsistencies
in interpretation among students within the
group. For example, students may vary in
their interpretations of how direct the geo-
morphology reference was, even with guide-
lines provided (i.e., the modified model based
on Jurmu 2005). The project expanded to
include a multitude of hypotheses in order
to include all researchers' interests, resulting
in a less-specific focus and a more chaotic
atmospnere .
The grading of this project was based on
an hour-long presentation. After generating
conclusions from our statistical analysis, each
hypothesis team created severai Presentation
slides outlining their findings. This informa-
tion was then given to a grouP of four people
who volunteered to compile and present the
research to the entire class. The presentation
included song clips with lyrics displayed
which would be discussed with the class.
\7e were graded and critiqued by both the
professor and our peers. We used our top five
scoring songs as a springboard for discussion
with the class throughout the presentation
to add an element of interactivity while we
presented our findings. The presentation con-
cluded with our overall impressions of the
Using Musit to Lartrn (ieornotphology: An Undergraduate Expcrince
Table 1. P:rrtial example fl'om song dara collection marrix (recre.ted for clarity).
song title;
rartist that originally pcrformed thc song;
ra sample of the song lyrics, phrase, title or: line lelated to geomorphologic concepts;
aapplicabiliry of lyrics to geomorphic fbmr(s) and/or process(es);
ithe number of novel times a geomorphologic reference is made within a song, therefore
repe:rted lyrics are excluded;
"on a scale of 1 -5 (1 lowest, 5 highe st), refers sub.je ctively to the centrality of geomorphology a
pluticular song. For example , a song may make references, but perhaps these aren't the focus of
the song, and therefbre geomorphology is not central or rclevanr ro the song to a high degree;
;on a scale of 1-5 (1 lowest, 5 highest), refers to the relevance of lyrics where high scores
imply a direct reference , lower scores imply rveak or indilect references to geomorphology
8total score for the sor-rg.
Titlel
Doberman
Pharaoh
Artist'z
Cradle of
Fitrh
tr0n
Maiden
Le0
Zeppelin
Jimi
Hendrix
J0nnny
Cash
Refs : Rel6
4ta
LyrT I Totals
-'-i'---
--:--
3 i 15
- --i--------'l
Line3
"To and fro, through
freeze and thaws";
"Saw lines drawn in
+h^ -^^t^
LilU JdilU) dPPtrdt ,
"Beneath a Pharaoh's
Sranite hand_
Volcano erupts and
sweeps a town away;
Hurricane devastates
the cities in its way
"Mountains fell in the
sea, fall mountains
don't fall on me"
"Crossed the deserts
bare, man...l've
breathed the
mountain air, man,.."
Appo
Freeze/thaw;
rock type; sands
:
Describes the
destruction of
r both volcanoes
; and hurricanes
rnd tho ahililv
thov havo tn
.h.nda fha
, lgldt.g!"- _ I
"Used to sing on the Describes the l
mountains but the : effect wind
mountains washed ; can have on
ry,9uth.ln9
Mass wasting/
slope instability;
possible
earthquake
Topography;
ae0ltan
sediment; 68
vtrvgr dvr ilu
locations
13
: Fates
l Warning
The Ocean
away."
l
)
4l
' ---'1'
l
')t
-1
I
------1--'
I
41
l
I
'--------?--
.|.
I
:
i 4')
lfOwasO
l've Been
Everywhere 1B
Two Feet of
Topsoil Brad
Paisley
",..A little bit of ; Soils; geologic
bedrock, limestone in references;
between..." rsuperposition
"Glaciers meltino in
th;;;;i.ingr,1i.,: Glacialablation 1
tl
915;5 122
.. ..-.-.:--.-,---,)
Super
Massive
Black Hole Muse
Casey D. Allen, 71ler J. Tharnpsan and Mnthtu T Htnsen
Table 2. Exirmple fiom L,xposure/Popularity matrix (recreated for clarity).
rsong title;
rthe recording artist;
ti'funes-generated classifi cation;
inumber of albums sold in millions;
j"longevity", or the number ofdecades the song has been active;
6the number of times the song has been "covered" by a subsequent artist;
-if the song made and of Billboard's Top 40 list (this was either a score of 5 for "ves", or a
u tor no Ji
'total score.
- ;;;;; ;;;;-'- ;;;;; '-;;o; ' i;;;;
Doberman Cradle of
Pharaoh ;Filth I Rock I o
, - -- -:,
Falac
',,7*" lron Maiden Metal 2
vvarntng
rl
Covero I Top 40? | Totals
i i--
0i1
- - 1--'
014
lo
The Ocean Led
Zeppelin
lf 6 was I Jimi Hendrix |--.i*-''-|.-
1115114 1
| -l--- I l
I've Been I Johnny
Everywhere Cash Country 5 15
Two Feet of brao Hatstev
t0ps0il
Super
Massive Muse
Black Hole
Country :
1
Alternative 1
research project, including shortcomings and
ideas for future studies. (The final presenta-
tion can be downloaded online he re: http:/i
clasfaculty. ucdenver. edu/callen /geomorph/
music/)
VERSE THREE: STUDENT
EXPERIENCE
(ln the rvhole, we experienced a sense of
accomplishment despite the obstacles we faced
and the errors we made. Since we could find
no lesearch analyzing music specificaliy fbr
its geomorphology referenccsi we believed
44
we were the first to perform such an analysis,
which was exciting (while Jurmu 2005 out-
lines a n-rodel for using music it-t teaching geo-
morphology, for example, no actual music is
analyzed to the depths we took it, see Table 2).
"Ihis project also forced us to apply concepts
we had learr-red in class to a dillerent context,
rather than analyzir-rg sorne obscure fon-n or
elaborating on a specific geomorphic process
fbr a laboratory assignment. It was fulfilling to
develop the project flom the ground up: data
collectior.r, creating the scoring system, delin-
ing hypotheses, analyzing findings, and finally
presenting the product. By being involved in
so many aspects of lesearch at once! we ex-
per:ienced numerous aspecrs of the scientific
method and profbssional rese:rrch, and came
to realize that every decision we made had an
effect on the validity of the lesearch-even
personal biases and subjectivity when it came
to specific musical genres, for example-forc-
ing us to develop methods that reduced sub-
jectivity and to think of how the t:rsk could
be done in ideal conditions (e.g., wirh more
time and more-focused hypotheses).
this project drew the inreresr of many
people beyond the classroom. Relatives,
friends, and other faculty at the Ur.riversity
recommended songs rhey thought referenced
geomorphology. Another side benefit of the
proiect was rhat by focusing on Inu\iL. gco-
morphology-and by exrensior-r, physical
geography-always came to the front of our
thoughts whenever listening to music. This
sort ofproject also kept us actively engaged in
the subject matter during our free lims-ws
had to listen to music because it was required
For our class. A student fiom a difiibrent class
even used our raw dataset for his statistics
class as a 6r-ral presentarion, expanding our
research proj ect's potenrial.
We applied science in a new conrexr, irnd
found a creative link. Tying in the meanings
that musicians/artists attached to rivers and
mountains added another layer of meaning to
the landscape (and rnusic). In some cases, rhe
songs outlined a process-erosion, lior- exam-
ple-and it was exciting to apply rhe deeper
knowledge gained from the geomor:phology
course's content to what was being depictecl
in the song. This allowecl us to expand upon
possible artisric inte rpre tatior-rs, deconstruct-
ir-rg the lyrics fbr geomorphological refele nce
much as a literature student might dissect
Shakespeare or Hemingway for prose and
pentameter. Ve also became more awale of
the interactions between hurnanistic geog-
raphy and physical geography, ir-r relation to
the artists' sense of place, something that,
as students, we deem as valuable for ur-rder-
standing the whole landscape , but something
that is rarely (if ever) tor,rched on in our other
physical geography courses.
Uing Musit to Latrn Geomorpho/og1,; n, Undcrgradudte F.xpe riort
\7e also believe this unique large-group proj-
ect was preferable ro more traditional methods
ofevaluation experienced in other courses. As
an open-ended iearning experience, it chal-
lenged us to focus our efforts on a topic rve
found interesting, instead ofhaving one already
created for us by the professor (and one that
most likely would not ignite the passion of as
many students). Additionallv, :rs opposed to
applying knowledge to sholt-term memory
in cramming for an exam, we gained a deeper
and rnore enduring knowledge of geomor-
phology because we conrinually thought of it
throughout the day and discussed it constantly
throughout this project. \flhile research papers
and small-group research ale rypically included
in geomorphology courses, the clynamics of
working in such a large group were novel rcr
us. As a few of our non-traditional (i.e., people
working professional jobs) fellow researchers
pointed out, having to work in this context
is more applicable to industry, and we rhere-
fbre found it to be a valuable experience to
have approaching graduation. C)rdinarily, an
inclividual student researchel can accomplish
things at their convenience. In the context of
a large group however, ir is importanr to follow
deadlines so that the next step in the analysis
can begin. Ellbctive communication was also
essential in cooldinating rh€ group, and as the
project plogressed, our ploject manager became
more direct, clear, and concise in his emails,
and consistently updated everybody as ro rhe
status of the project and what more needed
to be accomplished. Most importantly, this
project was not easy. Perhaps m:rny srudents
signed on to the grollp with the expecrarion
that, because there were so many people, rhey
would not have to contribute very much. Buc,
since this was a multi-stage projecr, everybody
was involved in several different aspects. Con-
sistent involvement and the multitude of tasks
presented novel and conrinual problems to be
mitigated, making us all better researchers.
CHORUS: DISCUSSION
'fhe rese:rrch gloup faced a short timeline
of ten weeks for completion of this proje ct.
CdseT D. Alhrt, Tllar J. 'lhompson an.d Mnrthew 'I Hanst:n
In professional settings, researchers face simi-
lar- time constraints. If we had understood
the full extent and factors that had to be ac-
counted for, we would have significantly le-
duced the scope ofthe research. But although
our professor noted this when approached
with each new hypothesis and idea, we were
so excited to be conducting our own research
that we did not heed his suggestions. For
exampleJ studying a single genre of music or
music produced within a specific time period
would have resulted in a much more focused
hypothesis. '1his downsizing would have had
a profound impact on reducing the stress of
communicating and analyzing these data as
part of such a large research cadre, result-
ing in perhaps more precise findings. These
factors and the hurdles we faced, however,
helped us to appreciate why a research sci-
entist may choose to focus on a very specific
hypothesis and specialized topic (and perhaps
work only with specific researchers).
Implementing pop culture facets and tech-
niques from humanities-based discipiines to
interpret natural forms and processes may
be an innovative way to create a passionate
interest in students for science, as it did for all
involved in this project. Upon completion of
this project, we considered how this uncon-
ventional type ofresearch can make connec-
tions be tween othe r types of media and the
sciences. Many students who worked on this
project believe that such research could be
applied in other areas ofeducation. \7e began
to keenly observe geomorphology and physi-
cal geography in music videos, movies, video
games. novelr. and relevisiorr pfograms-on
which we thought similar research ideas could
be based. Researching music and geomor-
phology changed the way we perceived media
as a wholc, arrd how \\e now view science in
general and its portrayal in pop culture in
particular. And thc:e observatiotrs wet'r' not
exclusive to geomorphology, as we began to
see repfesentations of many natural processes
in popular media, promptir.rg us to conclude
that similar research projects could be done
in other classes such as geology, biology, er-rvi-
ronmental science, and climatology. Adding
40
a little music to these physical sciences could
help students understand the topics better
than conventional methods. As we found
with this project, not only was our learning
of how to conduct research enhanced, but
there are valuable learning experiences to be
found in viewing various topics and subject
matters through a different lens.
POSTLUDE
Reflecting back on the project as a whole,
the experience was constrllctive. With little
familiarity in executing a genuine research
study, a large group of undergraduate str.r-
dents turned a creative idea into a research
project that captivated people both inside
and outside of a geomorphology class. They
were able to apply the scientific method, cre-
ate metrics to assess their hypotheses, and
overcome obstacles to produce new knowl-
edge . While the scope of their hypotheses
overreached their resources and somewhat
diluted their findings, other meaningful out-
comes-including a clearer understanding
ofwhat a scientific research project can en'
lxil-1vs19 produced. The article also suggests
that using unconventional teaching tools can
result in highly useful pedagogy: not limiting
research projects to numelic data ofobserva-
tions in a natural setting; implementing a
medium to which ali students have access;
and uniquely putting into practice the (some-
times dlyly-delivered) physical geography
cont€nt learned in class. It further proPoses
that through large group endeavors, team
building, communication, and problem-
solving skills generate a long-term beneficial
understanding that affects students' future
life experiences, allowing them to take own-
ership in meaningful-to-them research, whiie
generating important experience crucial for
students when applying their knowledge to
higher-level professional and academic re-
search. Indeed, the experience supports the
idea that allowing student-selected subject
matter for research-based experiences engages
students more directly, while also encompass-
ing an upper-division class's primary focus of
Using Music to l.edrn Geamarphology: An Llndergnzduate Experience
giving studenrs aurhenric and open-ended re- Herrington, J., R. oliver, and T.c. Reeves.
search experiences, identified. by Herrington, 2009-. patterns of Engagement in Authen-
Oliver and Reeves (2009) and Land (2000) as tic Online Learning-Environmenrs. ,42s,
vital but often missing parts of undergradu- tralian Journal of Ehucational Technology,
ate science education. 190):59-71.
The applications from this open-ended
learning experience are wide-ranging, and we
hope this project inspires other undergradu-
ate projects of comparable narure. If prop-
erly guided, when students analyze popuiar
media forms (such as movies, videos, and
music) for references to physical forms and
processes, their perception of science is not
only enhanced, but they also gain a valuable
r,rnderstanding of how research applies to cur-
riculum, while further-gaining a sense of how
science permeares everyday life. In addition
to consrrucring and managing (large) data-
bases, students also gain first-hand experience
in a group research setring and benefit from
working with a range of opinions, talents,
and lealning styles to complete a common
goal. These types of problem-solving skills
remain invaluable for students, delivering a
truer-to-life research experience that extends
well beyond common learning experiences.
For when it comes to practicing science, there
is no true substitute for hands-on experience.
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